BERLIN – The Cricket Center has added a facility dog to its team of child advocates thanks to a national nonprofit.
The Cricket Center, Worcester County’s only child advocacy center, welcomed Josiah, its new facility dog, last month. The nonprofit Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) provided the 2-year-old lab/golden retriever cross.
“He’s already started to make a difference,” said Wendy Myers, executive director of the Cricket Center.
Myers said she and several Cricket Center staff members were introduced to the concept of facility dogs at a child advocacy symposium in 2016. They wasted no time in contacting Canine Companions for Independence to get on the nonprofit’s waiting list.
“We’re always trying to get better,” she said, “and when you can add an element like this, the benefits are too numerous to list.”
In early 2018, Myers was notified that the Cricket Center, which aims to reduce trauma to child victims by bringing all the necessary resources—law enforcement, mental health therapists, child protective services, etc.—together, would be able to get a facility dog through CCI. The organization, which was founded in 1975, is the largest nonprofit provider of assistance dogs in the U.S., according to its website.
“They provide dogs for free which is why it’s such a long process,” she said.
Myers was invited to an intense two-week training course in New York in May. There, she participated in lectures, exams and practice sessions. Trainers watched her work with a variety of dogs before matching her with Josiah.
“They watch you work with particular dogs to see your handling skills, how the dog responds to you and what your needs are,” she said.
When she was paired with Josiah, Myers said she had no doubt he was the right dog for the Cricket Center.
“He’s exactly the temperament we needed,” she said.
CCI trains four types of assistance dogs. Service dogs help people with disabilities perform daily tasks, while hearing dogs alert those who are deaf of important sounds. Skilled companions provide independence to people with physical, cognitive and developmental disabilities while facility dogs like Josiah work with clients with special needs in an education, criminal justice or health care setting. Josiah has been trained to respond to more than 40 advanced commands.
Myers said all of CCI’s dogs were extensively trained before they were matched with human partners. The organization has graduated 5,753 teams since its inception in 1975.
“It’s extraordinary what they can do,” she said. “All the dogs are amazing.”
At the Cricket Center, Josiah will greet visitors, sit with children as they’re interviewed and eventually even accompany kids to court. He’s also learning games—he can already play Honeybee Tree and pop bubbles—that he’ll be able to play with children to help them relax.
Myers says Josiah, who goes home with her after work each day, will be a calming presence for staff at the Cricket Center as well.
“It’s certainly nice to have a dog under your desk when you’re dealing with the cases we’re dealing with,” she said.
Josiah is even giving Myers the opportunity to spread awareness regarding the dangers of child abuse. When people see him and ask about his blue CCI vest, Myers is quick to talk about his role at the Cricket Center as well as the organization’s purpose.
“It gets people to talk about child abuse,” she said. “He gives me the opportunity to share information.”
While he’s been at the Cricket Center less than a month, Myers says Josiah is already helping the center’s young charges.
“With kids he waits to see what their comfort level is,” she said. “He waits for a cue. He’ll hang back if he’s not sure. He’s smart about reading what people need.”